Trial By Fire The 1972 Easter Offensive, America's Last Vietnam Battle by Dale Andrade

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The Easter Offensive took place primarily in the northern three military regions (out of a total of four) of South Vietnam. In the northernmost region, called I Corps, the North Vietnamese opened the attack on 30 March 1972 with a massive artillery barrage of an intensity unmatched since World War II. Worse, from an infantryman's perspective, there were heavy tanks, also unprecedented on the battlefields of South Vietnam. Frightened South Vietnamese soldiers cowered in their positions, often refusing to fight. They abandoned many key positions and by the end of April most of Quang Tri Province, including the provincial capital, was in enemy hands and an entire South Vietnamese division had been destroyed." "In II Corps and III Corps the battle began less dramatically, but with equally devastating effects. District capitals fell in quick succession in three provinces, and two key cities, Kontum and An Loc, came under siege. After savage fighting lasting more than a month, both cities managed to hold out, though they were largely destroyed. The key to this pyrrhic victory was American air power - lots of it - which bombed the besieging North Vietnamese troops around the clock. Statistics indicate that a vast majority of enemy casualties (there were probably some 30,000 killed and wounded) were inflicted by aerial attacks." "Both sides claimed victory after the Easter Offensive, which officially ended in September 1972 with the recapture of Quang Tri City by South Vietnamese Marines. But the verdict is not so clear cut. North Vietnam had gained none of its goals of capturing and holding a provincial capital, nor had it decisively defeated the South Vietnamese Army. On the other hand, North Vietnam did gain considerable territory along the Laotian and Cambodian borders as well as the area just south of the Demilitarized Zone. Few people lived in these regions, but any ground gained played well at the Paris negotiating table." "In the end, North Vietnam committed all but one of its divisions to battle, leaving only a skeleton force to guard the homeland against a counterattack. This is unprecedented in military history and illustrates how confident Hanoi was that the Americans would not strike back. Indeed, the only U.S. response was renewed bombing of the North, the culmination of which was Operation Linebacker II, the "infamous" Christmas bombing. Whatever else it accomplished, the combination of North Vietnamese offensive and American bombing retaliation brought about final agreement on a peace treaty at Paris and allowed final U.S. disentanglement from Vietnam.

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